How to write a stand out cover letter
“I love writing cover letters.” Said no one, ever.
Most people don’t want to write a cover letter, and if they aren’t specifically asked for then very few people will do it. However, if you know how to use it the cover letter can become your secret weapon in landing more interviews.
Should you always submit a cover letter?
To answer this question, let’s imagine you are the recruiter. You receive 20 applications for a job; 7 include cover letters and 14 do not. The recruiters will see that there are 7 candidates that made more of an effort, really want the role and are conscientious. It is up to you, but this is something I would want a recruiter to think about me. But it’s not just about submitting any cover letter, it also has to be good!
What do you include in cover letter?
As an ex-recruiter I have read 1000s of cover letters. And let me tell you, most are dull, overly formal, and don’t give any additional information than the resume.
News flash: a cover letter is not just a summary of your resume!
In 2010 I received a really impressive cover letter, and I still remember it 10 years later! It was from a postgraduate Mathematics student applying for an investment banking job. He talked about his drive and grit, and that when he puts his mind to something he always achieves his goals. He gave examples of when he was a teenager making a motor bike out of a lawn mower, when he was a university student starting his own company, then how he got accepted into a master’s degree without the required prerequisites and then achieved the top grade in all his subjects in the first semester. This student didn’t meet the requirements we needed for the job, but his cover letter made such an impression that we invited him in for an interview that week- and he was offered the job!
A cover letter is your chance to really sell who you are and why you actually want the job. It should include stories that exemplify your skills, reasons why you want to work in that industry and that job, and show the research you have done on the company. Now, this might sound like a lot of work, but once you have written a few you can cut and paste quite a bit.
Cover letter structure
Tell them where you are going to take them, take them there, then tell them where they have been.
- Quick opening one line stating the job you are applying for.
- Your first paragraph should be about you. What are your top skills and what are some stories that show evidence.
- Paragraph two should be about why you want to do that job or work in that industry. Again share some stories about who you are and make the connection clear.
- The final paragraph is 3 reasons you want to specifically want to work for that company. Be as specific as you can here, to show you have done your research. Their website, values and social media pages are a great place to start.
- Summary of your skills, your reasons for applying and your call to action.
You can see a sample cover letter in the resource tab on UTS CareerHub.
The most important factor all recruiters hire for is ‘cultural fit’, which in a nutshell is about how well you meet the company values and whether they think you will work well with the team. People engage with stories more than lists or facts or figures. The better a recruiter can ‘get to know you’ through your resume, then the more confident they can feel that you could be a good cultural fit.
So, whether the job advertisement asks for a cover letter or not, I recommend putting in the effort. But remember a cover letter is not a summary of your resume. It is a chance for you to share stories and example to prove that you are the right person for the job. And don’t forget that you can bring a copy of your cover letter to UTS Careers and we can give you personalised feedback.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash
By Nicole Papworth
Nicole Papworth is a career coach with almost 10 years’ experience working with students and graduates starting out their careers. She spent time in large corporate banks, consulting and accounting companies studying who they hired and why. Nicole now uses this knowledge to help UTS students figure out their career ambitions and start achieving them.